Madison County, Illinois, and its adjacent sibling county (St. Clair) are back in the news due to Southern Illinois’ role as by far the preferred venue for new asbestos-case filings, primarily because the counties (especially Madison) offer so many trial dates, which are the key to generating settlements and ending cases. Other factors in Madison County include standardized discovery, a document depository full of years of history, and the remaining vestiges of Illinois’ absurd Lipke rule on proving up exposures to products other than the products made by the defendant(s) in trial.
The Madison County news begins with asbestos case filings in 2012 shooting up to a lofty 1,563 from 953 in 2011, as reported by the Madison County Record. The data published by the Circuit Clerk does not break down filings by disease. But, most involved in the litigation know that the filing numbers were somewhat influenced by a surge in cases involving lung cancers that are not mesotheliomas.
The other news is that the Supreme Court of Illinois affirmatively ordered a forum non conveniens dismissal of an asbestos case in Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad. In Fennell, the Court held that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied defendant Illinois Central’s forum non conveniens motion in a case arising from a Mississippi resident who worked mainly in Mississippi, and previously filed an asbestos suit in Mississippi. The proper outcome was fairly obvious, but nonetheless had eluded the trial judge and a majority of the panel of the intermediate appellate court.
Fennell is both encouraging and discouraging. The case does not announce any new legal rules, and instead simply applies law to facts. The real issue is whether defendants bring more well-documented forum motions in proper cases, and whether trial judges feel the need to grant them. Or, defendants may refrain from bringing motions but demand a discount for settling cases that could be attacked on forum grounds.
Madison County, Illinois remains a juridiction that’s been mismanaged for decades by some but not all insurers and defendants. Virtually all of the thinking members of the asbestos world knew that Fennell was going up to the state supreme court, but nonetheless it was by far a record year for Madison County’s new asbestos case filings. Time will tell if things will shift very much, or if Madison County will remain the focal point for asbestos litigation in the United States.